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Vikings Incorporate Health & Performance Strategy for London Game vs. Saints

EAGAN, Minn. – Everything the Vikings do over the next five days or so has a reason and a "why" behind it.

As the team prepares to leave for London Thursday night ahead of their Sunday matchup against the Saints, Vikings Executive Director of Player Health and Performance Tyler Williams sat down with Twin Cities reporters to discuss logistics.

Williams is new to the Vikings organization but quite experienced within the league—and trips across the pond.

Prior to joining Minnesota, Williams was with the Rams from 2007-21, a span during which the Rams traveled to London four different times.

He noted that the Rams did a full-week trip twice and on the other two occasions did a Thursday-Sunday/Monday trip similar to the Vikings plan.

"We did a full week twice, and we've done the short trip twice. Just from personal experience, looking at our concepts, our principles and after-action reviews, we thought the short trip puts us at the best for us and our organization," Williams explained. "Not to say one way is wrong and one way is right. There's probably eight different pathways to get from A to B; it's just what we feel like is best for our team at that time point."

Williams emphasized the priorities considered when tackling such a unique travel situation.

"We'll always make every decision based first and foremost on the players, maximizing their health and performance," he said. "And with that said, it's always the supporting mechanism to football. What we do as a performance strategy or a schedule strategy never trumps the Xs and Os but should enhance it.

"A lot of this comes into education," Williams later added. "Education and communication with [the coaches and players] on the 'why' behind what this does to your body and how to maximize your performance to set you up for success within this travel trip – or any travel trip. It's important to give them the tools to make a great decision."

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins reenforced Williams' message.

"I think players, we all want to know why and we all want to understand the strategic reasons," Cousins said. "It helps you then to be disciplined and do it. When you know the reason behind it, I think it makes it easier to execute it."

Here are four main topics Williams addressed in detail during his media session Wednesday:

1. Make it a quick trip

As mentioned above, Williams has experience both with week-long trips and quicker to-and-fros.

Though there isn't a right or wrong, per se, he appreciates the benefits of spending more time in the States before flying over.

The Vikings are slated to host the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium a week after Sunday's International Series game. But even if Minnesota had a post-London bye (more on that below), Williams feels his recommendation would be the same.

"I just think the more those guys can sleep in their own beds, the more they can have their own training regimen – I mean, these guys build up the same routines," Williams said. "You see the same guys that do the same things post-practice – 'Hey, I like to do this, and go eat, and get in the tubs and do film work.' "

2. No substitute for sleep

Sleep is foundational to health and performance.

Which is why the Vikings training staff puts so much emphasis on players getting the proper amount of sleep at the right times, even when changings time zones – and continents.

Williams and Minnesota's coaching staff sees value in maintaining as normal a schedule as possible Wednesday and Thursday before flying out. The intent is for the travel party to sleep – after a hearty meal – during the overnight flight.

"As much as we can, get that meal in them and then get those lights out," he said. "It's the same thing as if all of us, every day, that we're up late watching TV or up late on our computers, that light exposure is telling our body that it's time to stay awake. The more we can dim the lights, shut the shades – yeah, we will give out some eye masks – and other stuff."

Upon arrival Friday morning, the team will head directly into a full day's agenda.

"Get them out in London time right away, get them in that light exposure, wake them up, move them and get the flight off us, go through what would be a 'normal Friday' for these guys and have practice, go through some of those normal meetings and hopefully crash that night and sleep," Williams said. "Get as much sleep as they can. If they're used to getting eight or nine hours of sleep, we want them to get eight or nine hours of sleep that night."

Look back on photos from past games between the Vikings and the Saints.

3. Sticking to "Central Time"

As the Vikings switch to a different time zone this week, Williams said it is crucial to keep the circadian rhythm — for Minnesota's players, being on Central time — the same as a normal week.

With the team not leaving Minnesota until Thursday after practice, Williams added the players can stick to their typical routines for as long as possible.

"We like our players to have the advantage of their own beds, have the advantage of the normal food, the chefs they have, their normal training facility, their locker, just any type of recovery strategies," Williams said. "The more we can keep that the same and minimize the effects of travel. So that's our whole goal, just to mitigate the risk, mitigate the travel."

Williams said the plan is to keep the team on "Central Time" as much as possible.

"The goal is to not have them fully acclimate," Williams said. "Because the minute you fully acclimate, you're gonna have to fully acclimate back, so you're spreading that window of the ability to be able to shift and not shift."

Williams said that in the past, he's made trips with teams that have arrived early in the week and others that landed just days before kickoff. While he added there isn't an exact science as to which travel plan is the best option, the Vikings have to look at the bigger picture.

"We've got to zoom in and execute this week as best as we can, but zooming out to see the quarter of the schedule or the half view of the schedule and the full year and where we want to push and pull different guys from a workload standpoint," Williams said. "We feel like these concepts and principles that we've put together are what maximizes what we want to get done."

4. Rest, recover, road trip

Williams said the trip back from London will be equally as important as the departure on Thursday evening. The team is scheduled to arrive in Minnesota around 1 a.m. Monday.

"We have a whole recovery strategy built up for those guys that first day, and then we'll message another one and try to get them right back into what feels like normalcy and a normal Wednesday," Williams said. "The same time you eat, your body just functions off balance and rhythm, so we're going to attack those two things with everything we've got."

All but five of the 60 participating teams have had their bye weeks scheduled for the following week after playing in London. The Vikings requested their bye fall later in the season and will only have a few days in Minnesota before hosting the Bears on Oct. 9.

Williams said Head Coach Kevin O'Connell has done a good job of consulting those around him in order to make the best decision for the team, especially with the process of deciding the schedule.

"He reaches out to us and other departments to say, 'Hey, what makes us the best Vikings for that week?' So, he did. We had kind of a group discussion about it, and I think what it went into was, with this new 17-week schedule, it's a long season," Williams said. "If you have that bye right away, it makes for a long season and then regular-season-plus. I mean, it's just a long time period without a break."